The penny loafer and I have a somewhat fractious relationship.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a true and genuine affection for the penny loafer. But the particular geography of my feet–with the right foot a full size and a half larger than its counterpart–makes a slip on shoe a less than suitable option.
In fact, my last (and only) pair of penny loafers was purchased in 1983. As a teen, I coped with the size difference by placing an insert in the left shoe, which helped moderate the slippage, to a degree.
So, in an effort to rectify this situation, I set out in search of an option for my mismatched feet–the first pair of penny loafers of my adult life.
A Little History
In the early 20th century, Norway was a major destination among the well heeled for fishing expeditions. A slip on shoe worn by local fishermen quickly gained traction among these visitors, and it started showing up in European resorts and, eventually, Palm Beach.
Esquire took note of the shoe. In the 1930s, at the behest of the magazine and retailer Rogers Peet, G.H. Bass & Company began making a shoe based upon the Norwegian design, christened the Weejun. For more than a half century, Bass was the most venerable among the penny loafer’s many makers.
Over time, the penny loafer’s cultural associations evolved, and it now has a place among the most distinctly American of shoes.
Sadly, Bass is no longer a major player for those of us who favor American made shoes, having almost completely betrayed its heritage. With very few exceptions, virtually every version of the Weejun it now sells is manufactured overseas.
Determined to add a penny loafer to my shoe rotation, I did some sleuthing. I found three American companies that could make a traditional penny loafer on a custom basis, with different sized shoes for each foot: Allen Edmonds, Rancourt and Oak Street Bootmakers.
I knocked Allen Edmonds out of the running, primarily for aesthetic reasons. And Oak Street Bootmakers is a relatively recent interloper; plus their loafers are only made in the beefroll configuration, a style I don’t favor.
That left Rancourt, a Lewiston, Maine-based company that has been making classic shoes since 1967, although apparently under its own moniker only since 2010.
So to Rancourt I turned, with an eye on the weltline penny loafer in brown. Although I could have ordered online, when placing a custom order I feel it’s better to speak with an actual human being. The person I spoke with was courteous and helpful. She explained that a custom order involved an $80 surcharge, which is consistent with the tariff other companies place.
Shoes, at Last!
Three weeks later, my shoes arrived.
And they are truly a sight to behold!
The leather is outstanding: not corrected grain, bookbinder leather, but a rich full grain. The fit on each foot is spot on. And the color, a deep oak, is truly magnificent; the pictures on the web site simply do not do it justice.
My one complaint is that the stain on the bottom of each shoe is a slightly different shade. But this is a minor concern, and a single day of scuffing on concrete has rendered the difference moot.
I can see these shoes worn in all kinds of settings: sockless with khakis and Bermuda shorts, and it the winter with gray flannels and tweeds.
Some will wear penny loafers with a suit. I decline that option, believing that the suit’s formality contrasts too starkly with the inherent casualness of the penny loafer. I will however, wear it with an odd jacket and trousers.
I should also note that Rancourt seems to have a genuine concern for its workers. The company’s average worker makes more than twice the minimum wage. Admittedly, no one is getting rich on that paycheck, but those are also decidedly not poverty wages–yet another reason those of us at Classic American Style continue to celebrate American made goods.
There are, for those of us passionate about American made goods, a certain handful of shops whose inventories are either completely or nearly completely made up of products manufactured in the United States. In previous posts, we’ve waxed poetic about Manready Mercantile in Houston, one of the country’s foremost examples.
Last month, I had the good fortune to visit New York City where I encountered another store dedicated to domestically produced clothing. Located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Freemans Sporting Club is one of the leading voices in the chorus of an American manufacturing and craftsmanship renaissance.
Freemans differs from Manready in a couple of respects. First, where Manready curates its collection from a number of different manufacturers, much of what Freemans sells it does so under its own label. And while Manready embraces an aesthetic that skews blue collar, Freemans leans toward the dressier end of the spectrum.
The shop offers both a line of ready to wear clothing as well as a custom tailoring service, with its bespoke offerings (suits, jackets, trousers) made by Martin Greenfield in Brooklyn. In fact, according to the company’s website, “nearly all of the collection is manufactured within ten miles of the shop.”
That’s an audacious starting point, akin to the locavore movement in contemporary cuisine.
Several of the company’s shirts caught my eye. I ended up purchasing one in a heavy cotton gabardine, with a gray background and a red overcheck. I’ve already worn it twice, first as a layering piece under my Criquet Shirts chamois shirt-jac and the second time on its own. It performed beautifully both times.
Sadly, the headlong rush into warmer temperatures in this part of the country means that the shirt will probably only get another wearing or two before I have to put it away for the fall.
M&U Co. (short for Maxx&Unicorn) is a Brooklyn-based company specializing in a number of American made accessories for today’s gentleman: brass key chains, leather goods and wooden valet trays.
Given that my credit card case, money clip and lip balm do not have a suitable home when not resting inside my pockets, I was in the market for a valet tray. I had seen M&U’s versions online, but I was reluctant to pull the trigger on one without seeing it in the flesh.
A few days ago, while at Houston’s Manready Mercantile, I came upon several of the company’s valet trays. Here was a chance to empty my pockets and test the dimensions of each, to discover which met the demands of my accessories. As I suspected, the smallest of the offerings (a circular walnut tray) was more than adequate to contain the few items that I regularly carry in my pockets.
The decree, come down from on high, is that each employee will wear his ID badge at all times.
In the past, I’ve been resistant to donning my ID, and, as you can imagine, my rationale is predicated on sartorial considerations. Essentially, I have two options. Clip the badge to my suit lapel or pocket (which risks damage to the jacket). Or hook the badge to a cheap, foreign made, logo-branded lanyard, which is a blemish on an otherwise thoughtfully considered outfit.
Surely, I surmised, there had to be lanyard options, made in the United States, that did not represent an affront to good taste.
A quick Google search introduced me to Lilies Boutique, an Internet based enterprise that proffers a wide range of domestically produced lanyards. Lilies is run by one Jamie Cook, and it appears that she makes all her products by hand in Florida.
Not everything Lilies Boutique offers is to my liking. But the shop offers a line of seersucker lanyards that is outstanding in every way, with superlative construction and impeccable taste. I ordered mine in the navy seersucker. Wearing it doesn’t feel like compromise–quite the contrary. It’s really a wonderful accessory unto itself, something I feel proud to wear.